Sunday, April 01, 2012

Seen It: Captain Apache (1971)

Five years after a young Burt Reynolds donned the red face makeup and fright wig to play the heroic Navajo Joe (1966), veteran Spaghetti Western icon, Lee Van Cleef of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1967) fame, also took to dressing as an Indian warrior in the "classic" Captain Apache (1971). Of course, Lee did Burt one better by also contributing "vocals" to a happenin' theme song--though the singing appeared to be little more than spoken word clips from the movie.

In the film, directed by Alexander Singer, Van Cleef stars as the "redskin in cavalry blue" who bungles upon a presidential assassination plot. Few movie summaries sell a film as well as this one from The Spaghetti Western database: "Captain Apache wears a funky coat, trips on psychedelics, beats up twin gay gunslingers and constantly gets called red ass, all while trying to find out what the words 'April morning' mean."

A fan of Van Cleef, I have actually watched this film a few times as it allows the actor the chance (of which there must have been very few for a character actor--a bad guy one at that) to showcase his considerable, and under-appreciated, chops. It was also the rare role for which Van Cleef did not wear his iconic mustache; a facial hair configuration that had done more than it's share of twirling above an evilly laughing smirk.

Traditionally against as the villain, Van Cleef played up his anti-hero role here with humor and gravitas, taking advantage of the chance to indignantly decry the treatment of Native Americans in the days following the Civil War. While that may be overstating the intentions of the film, much like Reynold's aforementioned turn in Navajo Joe many years earlier, there is a sense of dignity in Van Cleef's performance, but I cannot recall when, even in the most ridiculous of roles, Van Cleef was not able to draw on his inner spirit to find dignity in the characters he played.

If you can't find Captain Apache as one of the features on any number of Spaghetti Western DVD collections (it was on two that I purchased for $10 a piece), it is available for free viewing online at

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